Saturday Single No. 71

Originally posted May 10, 2008

When I wrote a little while back about my college buddies and I hearing Sweathog’s “Hallelujah” as we drove back from the Twin Cities one night in late 1971, I got to thinking about nighttime driving and nighttime radio.

Then, “The Captain Of Her Heart” popped up on this week’s Baker’s Dozen, and I got to thinking even more about nighttime listening, as my comment that day indicated. And I realized that not only had I heard Double’s haunting song at least once in my apartment during the small hours, but I also heard it one early morning as I drove home from a party through quiet winter streets.

Music has always been for me – as it is for many folks, I am sure – a memory trigger. Many songs carry with them images of the places a younger – sometimes much younger – whiteray gathered with his friends and loved ones. The songs need not even be great: I grinned last evening when Reunion’s 1974 hit “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)” popped up at random, my grin echoing the long-ago delight that I and the other people at The Table felt when we heard that novelty for the first time on the Atwood Center jukebox. And for an instant, I was back at The Table.

There is a different feeling, though, to the nighttime songs of travel, whether as driver or rider. The music plays and a brief moment of living is imprinted in one’s memories, but it’s a moment during which one can feel separate from the rest of the universe, safe in the cocoon of the vehicle.

None of these are massively important moments, but they all come back:

Someone brought a radio along when the St. Cloud Tech High School concert choir went on a road trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the early spring of 1970. And as the bus headed north, Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky,” with its fuzzed-up guitar, provided a background for our chatter and laughter.

Danish radio – a government-run concern – didn’t play oldies often, especially not American oldies, so it was startling and memorable to hear the Toys’ 1965 hit, “A Lover’s Concerto,” while my lady of the moment and I rode in the backseat of a Volkswagen while out on a double date with a Danish couple in October 1973. As we made our way through the Danish countryside heading back to Fredericia, the song echoed hopes – vain hopes, as it turned out – that both of us had nurtured but that neither one of us had yet been brave enough to utter.

We jump ahead twenty years to the next moment that popped into my head as I pondered nighttime driving music. Sometime in 1993, while I made my way home to Minneapolis from Rob’s home in the northern suburbs, I heard the unmistakable voice of Levon Helm coming from the speaker. The Internet as we know it was non-existent, and I had no subscription to Rolling Stone at the time, so I’d been unaware that Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson had revived The Band. That happy news came to me via the group’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” as I drove the freeway home.

About a year later, another drive home from Rob’s brought me another moment. My life was in a darker place than it had been for a while, and I recall feeling quite glum and alone as I headed down the freeway toward Minneapolis. Then a burst of drums and bass, followed by sawing violins, broke through my gloomy haze. And I listened in amazement and delight to the surreal “Closing Time,” from Leonard Cohen’s 1992 album, The Future. It didn’t resolve any of my dilemmas, but it sure made the ride a lot more fun.

So here’s the first appearance of Leonard Cohen on this blog, with “Closing Time,” this week’s Saturday Single.

Leonard Cohen – “Closing Time” [1992]

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